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Influence of Exponential Technology in Healthcare


Let’s unpack this. The common example used to explain this term and its impact is the story of a game of chess involving an Indian king and Lord Krishna. The king agreed to grant the deity any reward for beating him. The deity asked for a single grain of rice on the first square and double it on every consequence square. Having lost the game, every square on the chess board started to be placed with rice as agreed. The king was to have his lesson in the power of exponential growth – 1 grain of rice in square one became over 1,000,000 in the twentieth square and by fortieth first square he was looking at over 1,000,000,000 grains. There are 64 squares on the chess board, you can do the math. 

The exponential growth curve starts slowly, gradually and then suddenly as the king found out. When the curve reaches the sudden stage, its impact will be disruptive. 

Peter Diamantis and Steven Kotler in their book BOLD put forward the concept of the 6Ds that is fuelling this exponential growth of today’s technologies– digitalization, deception, demonetization, dematerialization, democratization and disruptive. 

These technologies are being leveraged by ecommerce digital platform organisations that are led by leaders who have put in place enabling operating, organisation and business models. 

What are these digitally enabled ecommerce platform organisations? 

Characteristics of these organisations include:  

  • Their operating, organisation and business models and strategies are underpinned by the 6Ds. 
  • Their digital platform enables them to scale exponentially. 
  • Their digital platform also allows them to exit faster and at much lower cost. 
  • Their digital platform allows them to leverage the power of Big data analytics to understand their customers, operations and develop predictive models. 
  • ·Their business interest cross multiple industries, geography and time. 
  • They use their digital platform to make interactions, transactions and feedback with their consumers and business partners as seamless and effortless as possible. 


Amazon, Alibaba, Google and Tencent are some notable examples of such organisations. The last chapter of the book PLATFORM REVOLUTION covers “what makes an industry ready for platform revolution?” 

The authors highlight certain characteristics that make industries more susceptible to be disrupted by these digital ecommerce platform organisations:  

  • ·Information intensive industries 
  • ·Industries with nonscalable gatekeepers
  • ·High fragmented industries 
  • ·Industries characterized by extreme information asymmetries 
  • ·Industries with high regulatory control 
  • ·Industries with high failure costs 
  • ·Resource intensive industries 



Healthcare, banking and education industries meet many of the above and yet continue to be resistant to transformative change. The late Professor Calestous Juma in his talk on his latest book, INNOVATION AND ITS ENEMIES also identifies healthcare sector as resistant to transformative change. 

Exponential technology is going to play centre stage in shaping changes in healthcare. Artificial intelligence, robotics, sensors, blockchain, additive printing, cloud computing, big data analytics, biometric science, new materials, advance genomics sequencing and editing, wearables, autonomous devices, implantablesdigestables, virtual/augmented reality are no longer the realms of science frictions and techno geeks. Almost daily proponent of each of these exponential technologies advocate that their flavour of technology is “the one to watch”.  

The digital nature of all these exponential technologies and their convergence potentially makes it difficult to predict how fast some of them will reach the “suddenly” phase of the exponential curve. What we can be certain is that their digital nature allows them to scale extremely fast within a short space of time and relies on a lower infrastructure investment compared to nondigital competitors. 

 There is a whole digital community out there that is actively working to improve and bring their digital products and services to consumers. Incumbents often underestimated the pace of improvements and potential resulting disruption until it is too late. 

Following the launch of the refreshed New Zealand Health Strategy in April 2016, a deliberate, difficult but necessary conversation is taking place in the New Zealand health sector.  

In the 20 months since this conversation started in New Zealand exponential technologies leveraged by digital enabled ecommerce platform organisations are starting to make their presence felt around the world. The recent Amazon, Berkshire and JP Morgan & Chase announcements, Babylon contracts with NHS England, Google Deepmind and Ping An Good Doctor, are some recent and obvious examples. All these examples may be well underway towards the “suddenly” part of the exponential curve.  

Another important question that is often asked is how exponential technology improves patient experience and care.  

Increasingly while “experts” debate the efficacy, ethics, privacy and security of these exponential technologies, the practical and sometimes uncomfortable answers lie in how patients and consumers are “subscribing” to these new offerings. Gaps in the 6As – accessible, availability, affordability, appropriateness, awareness and acceptable for patients and consumers being addressed by these exponential technologies becomes the motivating force for change and disruption. 

In ten maybe twenty years what will First World countries health system look like? Any answer that looks too much like today is the wrong answer!  

Professor Klaus Schwab in his book “Fourth Industrial Revolution” issues a warning “The changes are so profound that, from the perspective of human history there has never been a time of greater promise or potential peril. My concern, however, is that decision makers are too often caught in traditional, linear and nondisruptive thinking or too absorbed by immediate concerns to think strategically about the forces of disruption and innovation shaping our future” 

So, ultimately finding answers to sustainable future focus health system for First World countries are not just technological challenges,it is a leadership one!  

In final chapter of his book Technology versus Technology, Gerd Leonhard sets out nine principles to guide and fuel this important strategic conversation as well as seven essential questions to ask when evaluating exponential technologies. 

As thought leaders who are interested in this subject matter, this is not a bad place to start our strategic conversations and evaluation of exponential technologies. There is still time but let’s not take forever!


Chai 。仁材 Chuah 蔡
is the founder of Health System Transformation Limited. A New Zealand Company, he started after he finished up as the Director-General of Health
and Chief Executive of the New Zealand Ministry of Health on February 2018.

He is the first Asian to be appointed as Chief Executive in the New Zealand public service. His previous roles included the National Director
of the National Health Board, Chief Executive of a District Health Board, Chief Financial Officer, and Chief Operating Manager in public health institutions in New Zealand

His focus is currently writing, speaking, sharing, and advising on:
1. future of healthcare
2. leaders we need
3. better care for our seniors (elderly)

He currently also provides mentoring and coaching for up and coming leaders, especially in healthcare.

In his free time, he enjoys travelling with his wife, spending time with his adult children, and a brand new granddaughter. He also enjoys pottering around his garden and developing hs newfound hobby of drawing


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